The New York Philharmonic marks a milestone this fall as it settles into a newly renovated David Geffen Hall: for the first time in its 180-year history, women will outnumber men onstage. Per the New York Times, the narrow differential—45 to 44—could be a temporary condition, as the orchestra currently has 16 advertised vacancies. Since 1972, such openings have been filled by blind auditions, with would-be members playing behind screens that conceal gender and ethnicity. But change has come slowly, and sexism and pay discrimination have persisted for decades even as the number of women has increased.
Plus, as the Times notes, "the Philharmonic still falls short by several measures," as women only hold a third of its leadership positions, and it has never had a female musical director. Also, there remains "a glaring lack of Black and Latino members." Other US cities have seen similar changes, with female musicians now filling about half the orchestra chairs nationwide. Women are rarely hired as conductors, however, as the Detroit Free Press reported in a recent story about Gina Provenzano, the first female to lead Michigan’s Warren Symphony Orchestra.
Among the nation's 25 largest ensembles, Atlanta’s Nathalie Stutzman is the only female music director. Texas Public Radio covered the topic earlier this month as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra held its fourth annual Women in Classical Music Symposium, which focused on mid-career challenges women face in an industry that is slow to change, in part, because musicians with major orchestras are given tenure and often hold their seats for years if not decades. (Read more New York Philharmonic stories.)